Martin Lisius

Inspired by the plains of Texas and the big open skies above them, director/DP Martin Lisius founded Prairie Pictures in 1986; a few years later, he started up StormStock, the self-described “world’s largest storm footage library,” licensing extreme weather footage to film and TV producers. Over the years, Lisius has shot footage of an array of intense but often beautiful supercell thunderstorms as well as hurricanes (including Irma, Harvey and Katrina) with everything from Super 35 film to high-resolution digital cameras from Sony and Red, along with the DJI Inspire 2 drone platform.

In 2018, he caught the resolution bug. That’s when he started working to determine the highest possible resolution for capture storm images. It turned out that a 16K camera couldn’t actually be purchased. But he thought he could build one. And that’s what he used to make “Prairie Wind.”

Lisius fashioned a calibrated camera mount that could hold a pair of Canon EOS 5DS cameras shooting in tandem, capturing images at a resolution of 15,985 x 5,792 and an aspect ratio of 2.76:1, which happens to match Ultra Panavision 70. The online was performed at 8K (7,680 x 3,213) in Rec. 2020 color space at a more conventional aspect ratio of 2.39:1. He used only prime lenses — Canon’s 85mm f/1.8 USM lens and Sigma’s 35mm f/1.4 Art lens — but the generous 16K canvas allowed him to simulate camera moves without losing resolution in the finished piece. The work to stitch the images together was painstaking — Lisius said he spent four months shooting 16K in six different Great Plains states, then worked three months processing the clips. “Each shot required two days to stitch, color and render, if there were no alignment issues,” he wrote on a Vimeo posting of the finished piece. “Making this short film taught me Jedi-like patience.”

Watch the video, below, then read on for more detail on the project, or click through to Vimeo for a complete list of gear employed on the shoot.

Some of the 16K footage used in the film can be licensed through StormStock. And if that’s just not good enough for you, you’ll have to consider booking a storm-chasing expedition with Lisius’ team at Tempest Tours.

Martin Lisius on “Prairie Wind”

I used PTGui, an excellent stitching software, but it’s patience, dedication and lots of time that makes it possible. After the images were stitched, I manually looked at each batch to check for stitching errors. Sometimes, they would look fantastic at first, but then once colored, assembled, rendered and put into motion I would see tiny tears in the combined image. At that point, I would go back and start over for that shot, or it would just end up on the cutting room floor. Several beautiful shots don’t appear in the film for this reason.

16K camera rig

The custom 16K camera rig on location.
Prairie Pictures

Man was not meant to shoot a movie with two cameras. It can be done, but it’s very tedious and time consuming. I was willing to try it because that’s the only way I could shoot 16K.

As I got deeper into post-production, I developed a few workflow shortcuts, but they were only minor. I still had to stitch and then make a video to really see if there were any errors. Also, we ran two external fans continuously for three months, day and night, to keep the Mac workstation and Thunderbolt RAIDs cool. This was a very technical production.

The upside to all this insanity was I ended up with a glorious canvas to work with. When all the elements were completed, and it came time to actually make the movie, things went rather quickly, relatively speaking. Although massive and cumbersome to work with, the stitched Canon images were amazing. Color was nice and there was a tremendous amount of “resolution depth.” This is where 16K shines. Resolution depth. Zooming in several steps and seeing the image resolve over and over as one would see with a zoom lens was mind-blowing. A sharp 35mm prime lens becomes a 300mm lens when viewed on a 4K monitor. I could have utilized longer zooms in “Prairie Wind,” but didn’t want the zooming to be distracting, so I used slow, shallow, more cinematic zooms. After all, the point of the whole thing is art and the story, not how you arrived there. The viewer wasn’t meant to see the wizard working behind the curtain.


Martin Lisius shoots 16K in central Texas

Martin Lisius shoots 16K in central Texas
Prairie Pictures